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Google’s Unique Advantage

Mark Mzyk | March 17, 2008

Previously I’ve written about the corporate culture at Google and how it isn’t likely to be an easy thing to emulate.  Today at work, my coworker, Jackson, showed me this post that links to a slide show that delves into Google’s internal processes.  Another post that I recently read was Steve Yegge’s post on Good Agile, Bad Agile, in which Steve explores Google’s version of agile.

Needless to say, it all adds up to a lot of Google on the brain.  Google, at the moment, is held up as the gold standard of software companies.  They have achieved massive success and are the company almost every developer wants to work for.  Ask someone in the software industry which company they want to emulate and they will likely say Google.

Obviously, if it was easy to emulate Google, everyone would have done it or would be doing it by now.  The more I think about Google, the more and more I think it is going to be impossible to emulate them.  Certainly you can steal some of their ideas and what they’ve pioneered and put it to use in your company, but outright copying Google is going to be near impossible.

Having touched on Google’s corporate culture, let’s look at something else that makes Google even more unique: how it grows.

One thing that has become evident to me is that Google grows in an organic fashion, unlike any other company I know of.  Google develops tools that are internally useful and then releases them to the world.  Google does not develop products to sell to the world.  Google does not have external contracts, at least in the traditional sense, as far as I can tell.

Let me elaborate on this.  Google is obviously best known for search and for ads associated with search.  This is in essence Google’s one true product.  It is the one feature Google developed for the outside world.  When Google developed search it was no different from a small company.  It is what Google has done since then that makes Google different.

Google doesn’t answer to any external power.  They don’t have anyone they have to deliver a product to.  There is no contract with a deadline.  Due to not having any external dependencies, Google can continuously iterate over a product until it reaches a state of near perfection.  It can stay in internal testing as long as Google wants and no one is going to care.  See Gmail, Google Maps, etc.  This then allows Google to use the perfect form of the agile process.  Continuous iterations and testing and development, continues improvement.  Then as Google sees fit, release the products.  As they get better and better, more people use them and more money from ads come in.  It’s beautiful.

It’s also unlikely any other company is going to be able to pull this off.  Google hit on the formula for ads before anyone else.  They now have such a commanding lead in that arena that to compete with them you need deep pockets of money of your own.  That makes it difficult to launch a company and follow Google’s lead of avoiding external dependencies and having the near perfect product development process.

At this point, you might be screaming at me that I’m wrong, because Google does have external contracts, especially for serving up ads on other sites.  But notice that Google’s contracts are different from most companies’ contracts.  Google isn’t developing a product for these companies.  All they are doing is giving them an existing product that Google has already completed and released.  Development on that product might still be happening, but it happens within Google, not within the realms of the contract.  Google is still free to develop how ever they want.

For almost everyone else, you’re going to have to create a product and then drive sales of that product or else sign a contract and then deliver a custom product to the customer.  You’ll have external dependencies that will force an outside reality upon you that Google simply doesn’t have.  You can argue that Google is dependent upon ads, but at this point Google has captured such a large share of that market and is steadily capturing more of it, that it really isn’t a dependency for Google.  Sure, Google should probably diversify, just in case the ad market tanks, but at this point Google has so much money they can afford to take their time.

So now you see.  It’s unlikely you or anyone else is going to emulate Google.  Kiss that dream goodbye.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from Google.  Copy the good things that Google does and adapt them to your business.  What you shouldn’t do is force the practices of Google on your business simple because they are what Google does.  Google is a product of a very specific evolution and your business will be the product of a different evolution.

And when your developers come to you and say that they want to be exactly like Google, you now have an argument to explain why your business can’t be exactly like Google.

Still, there’s nothing preventing you from being the next great company after Google.  That prize is still there for the taking.

Filed in: General.

6 Comments

  1. Comment by Omkar Singh:

    excellent article.

    September 8, 2008 @ 16:47
  2. Comment by Rona:

    What about other search engines? Dont they have the same advantages as you mentioned…?

    November 10, 2009 @ 15:44
  3. Comment by Mark Mzyk:

    @Rona

    Yes and no. Yes in that if they could somehow capture enough ad revenue to sustain themselves, they likely could have the same advantages. However, the elephant in the room is Google. Any search engine doing ads now has to compete with Google – and that strips away most of the advantages. If I have ads to sell, do I want to go with the small competitor or the giant with market share?

    I think that no other company will replicate what Google did in the way Google did it. However, the next company like Google will come out of left field where we all least expect it, just as Google did.

    November 10, 2009 @ 20:32
  4. Comment by Rona:

    True, however other search engines could use the same advertising method used by Google; auctioning places. This is now making Google’s best ad spaces one of the most expensive to advertise on. I agree on Google being the elephant in the room, but the hits other search engines get are still very attractive.
    Did you know that Yahoo holds a couple of million shares of Google, valued even more millions. I guess Google is a ‘frenemy’ to most search engines.
    Have nothing to add to your last paragraph, that’s indeed how it ends most of the time!

    November 10, 2009 @ 20:53
  5. Comment by Mark Mzyk:

    @Rona

    You’re right, in that there’s no reason another search engine can’t run ads in the same way Google does. Still, in terms of market share, Google overwhelms everyone else, so unless someone introduces something radically different, it is unlikely Google will be removed from it’s top spot. That’s why I think it’s unlikely someone else is going to replicate Google’s success in the same way. I guess it could happen if Google became complacent and allowed they’re product to deteriorate while their competitors improved, but right now that seems unlikely.

    What is more likely is that someone like Twitter unseats Google. Or maybe even Facebook. Those are the competitors from left field, in that they aren’t direct competitors of Google, but could unseat Google.

    I did not know that Yahoo holds share in Google. That’s interesting. Of course, exactly what Yahoo’s business is hasn’t been entirely clear for a few years now and that’s likely why they continue to pale as compared to Google. It shouldn’t surprise me that amongst all the other things they do and companies they own, they also own a bit of Google. Thanks for that information.

    November 10, 2009 @ 21:16
  6. Comment by Sevgi:

    Independency is an essential point when it comes to a creative and innovative organization. To have freedom enhances motivation-creativity-innovation because it takes away the limits physically and mentally. When looking at Apple, freedom and independency plays also a major role and makes them so unique because they dont fallow or stick to external factors such as market/consumer/competitor analysis. They focus on themselve rather then on the environment because they believe that, if they do a great product, consumers would like to have it anyways – just like google.

    March 9, 2012 @ 05:30